Opening Doors

Meet Mary Cole, founder of the Sundays at Four Concert Series

Mary Cole 3
Mary Cole had always been very involved with her church, Christ Episcopal, so she was surprised one day to overhear a woman say that the church was part of the museum located across the street because, “…because its doors are always closed.” Mary knew this wasn’t true. In fact, Christ Church was a vibrant and active community, that initiated “Souper Saturday.” Never one to shy from a challenge, Mary decided to do something about this mistaken impression.

​    Combining her desire to “open the doors” of her church with her love for music, Mary began developing the Sundays at Four Concert Series in the spring of 2008.

Sundays at Four is now in its 11th season, offering classical concerts in Christ Church’s beautiful, historic setting. Aside from the four outstanding classical music concerts presented each season, the organization also provides unique educational opportunities for young musicians through recitals and master classes. Especially popular is the annual “Terrific Teen Talent Concert” held each August.

 “Many students who have performed with Sundays at Four are now professional musicians and graduates of major schools of music such as Juilliard, Cleveland Institute, Curtis Institute, the Cincinnati Conservatory and Indiana University School of Music. Some have returned as professionals to give recitals.” The four concerts offered each season often feature a performance prior to the main concert by local students, such as the Westside Elementary Choir (of 60 children!), or the Westside Elementary Carl Orff Ensemble that performed at the Smithfield Little Theatre prior to the Old Dominion University Percussion Ensemble Concert.

In 2010, Sundays at Four became part of the Isle of Wight Arts League though it operates as a separate entity and has its own very active Board of Directors. This move gave the concerts more visibility and connection to the local arts audience and extended the organization’s reach beyond locals. “Our audience members travel from Maryland to the north, Richmond to the west, North Carolina to the south and the Atlantic to the east,” explains Mary. “All ages attend the concerts, but many folks are retired and are no longer able to travel to enjoy the cultural and fine arts in the cities or attend the larger social events in the area.”

For Sundays at Four master classes, students audition to be a participant, and if accepted, perform in front of the teacher, other students, and audience members. The teacher also critiques them in front of the audience. In January of 2019, Trey Sorrells, a former “Terrific Teen” performer and now a professional jazz artist, will present a saxophone Master Class.

A native of Isle of Wight County, Mary grew up on a farm called “The Oaks” in the Newport District. The farm had been in her family for over 200 years, on either her mother’s or her father’s side, and had existed since the 1600s. Currently, she lives in a home overlooking Cypress Creek, built in 1954 by her great uncle, Will Yeoman. Many residents know Mary’s family for the popular “Miss Kitty’s Kindergarten” that her mother created and operated for 19 years on the family farm. She still meets many of her mother’s former students who share their fond memories with her.

Mary has always had a passion for music. In fact, she studied music at Northwestern University and Indiana University, as well as teaching and performing for 20 years. She was the first French horn instructor at Virginia Tech before she entered the IT world, working for 20 years in the semiconductor industry. Mary assisted in the development of the first batteries for electronic vehicles. As she describes it, “We had electronic cars running on the salt flats for 300 miles on an 8-hour charge in 1993.” 

Mary’s son and daughter and five grandchildren live in Boston. Not surprisingly, both are very active in the arts as well. Her son, Ben, has two degrees in vocal performance, and daughter, Amy, is a gifted painter with two degrees of her own. Mary still studies voice and enjoys singing. Apart from regular trips to Boston to visit her family, this busy lady has very little downtime.

Version 2     Sundays at Four has grown beyond holding concerts to mentoring young musicians. Read Ricky’s story as told by Mary Cole:
 “This is a long story, so I will only touch on a few of the highlights. Over the past 11 months, I took into my home a fine young man who is a singer and one of our 2017 Terrific Teen performers. Ricky discovered as he was packing his bags, that his scholarship to James Madison University to study voice had been revoked – through no fault of his own – but due to a discrepancy on an important form. Ricky had been homeless and hungry before and now it looked like he would be again. But the Sundays at Four Community rallied behind this talented young man. My voice teacher taught him for free to keep him progressing vocally. After living with me for 6 weeks, a cousin of mine found him his own home, and an attorney’s services were provided as a gift from a local businessman. Christ Episcopal Church and Sundays at Four partnered to present two benefit concerts in October and May. Ricky will give a final “thank you recital” on August 19. After sending out letters asking for community support, the Women’s Club of Smithfield bought Ricky a suit and tuxedo. With a lot of logistic help, Ricky was accepted again at JMU, and he is leaving on August 21 as a Centennial Scholar with a full ride scholarship. A “trunk party” was held in July, and supporters from as far away as Norfolk attended with gifts to fill his college trunk with needed supplies and cloths. By the way, he was also accepted at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Peabody Institute of Music – auditioning for them in person. There is a fine voice teacher waiting eagerly at JMU to work with him. The effort to save an already outstanding young singer who would have fallen through the cracks and most likely ended up on the streets, was an arm of Sundays at Four and Christ Episcopal Church.”

Mary is determined to see Sundays at Four grow. She explains, “Sundays at Four is at a cross-roads where further development will need outside grants and contributions. To date we, have operated by ticket sales and general contributions. I would love for Sundays at Four to have a real marketing professional who could find new ways to provide support for the organization.” She is also working on a grant to offer regular “Real Jazz” concerts through Sundays at Four.
“As I look back at my family, I see creative and talented people who did things first. My grandmother, Elizabeth Batten Yeoman was the first telephone operator in Smithfield. My mom was the first bookkeeper on the first James River Bridge. She and Nancy Wishart started the first Girl Scout troops in Smithfield. My mom created a kindergarten on the farm that was unique and had a waiting list to get in. I guess creating things is in my blood.” 

It’s clear that Mary has opened doors — not just at Christ Episcopal Church, but also for this talented young man, and for so many other musicians.

Sundays at Four 2018-2019 Concert Series
Sept. 23, 2018: Joseph Vazpiano
October 28, 2018: John Bullard Quartet, piano, banjo, violin, cello
February 24, 2019: Maria Yefimovapiano
April 28, 2019: The Virginia Wesleyan Choirs
TBD: A Solo Youth Recital
August 19: “Thank You” Recital by Ricky Goodwyn, Jr.
January 19: Master Class by saxophonist Trey Sorrells

Concerts are held at Christ Episcopal Church
111 South Church Street in downtown Smithfield
Facebook Page: Sundays at Four
Season tickets: Adults $65, Students $20
Tickets at the door: Adults $20, Students $5